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My Online Class

This is how Butterfly feels about school.

This is how Butterfly feels about school.

I spent the whole summer freaking out about the first online class for my masters in social work, as some of you know. I’m a very anxious student. I always worry that I won’t finish my work in time, and rush and rush, until I’ve finished everything by Tuesday, when it’s not due until Sunday. There is a lot of work for my online Human Rights and Social Justice Class: first of all, because it’s a graduate class, and second because it’s all in eight weeks, so each week is like two weeks of a regular semester. I take notes on everything: the chapters from the terrible textbooks, the scholarly articles, the radio programs, and the video lectures. Even when the information is duplicated and quadruplicated, I take notes each time, just in case I missed something.

I hope this will calm down soon and I will start to trust myself a bit with this new school format. I’m kind of enjoying arguing with all of these authors as I read their work – and one of our weekly assignments for class is a reflection journal to “process” what we’ve learned, so I can rant and go off on tangents and have my say and, eventually, the teacher has to read it.

Human Rights and Social Justice as a title for a class sounds daunting. It suggests a seriousness and a comprehensive-thousand-page-thesis vision of learning, but the reality of the class has been more down to earth. The Professor focuses on manageable doses of vocabulary and ideas, rather than expecting the TRUTH to come down from heaven and infuse us with a burning light.

There is an acceptance that these terms are so big as to be almost meaningless, or to carry many meanings within them. We each use these terms, and every term we learn in the jargon of social work, to mean specific things that they may not mean to other people: words like distributive justice, and equal rights, and positionality, and intersectionality, and internalized oppression, and on and on.

Cricket has already let me now her feelings about my watching the video lectures on the computer. She’s used to me reading quietly, or looking at blogs and pictures on line, but for the computer to talk, and for so long, makes her very angry. She had a big bad case of Barking Tourette’s during the longer of the two lectures, and I almost lost my mind.

“What the heck is that?”

“I must bark it to death!”

We have twenty one or twenty two students in our class and I read everything they write, because a lot of my classmates are already working at social service agencies and have valuable experiences to share, and because it’s nice to know someone’s out there reading and thinking about the same things I am. The online format is surprisingly intimate, and thorough, compared to in-person classes, because everyone gets a chance to have their say, and to respond to each comment that interests them. We don’t have to compete for attention, or fit our comments into a limited time period. We have all week to think and write and read at our own pace – and the professor can hear and respond to everyone, with no need to pick only one or two voices to speak for all of us.

Most of the work for the class is reading and then writing responses, but some percentage of the final grade will come from the final exam – a forty question multiple choice test that I will take on my home computer. Their answer to how to make sure we are not cheating is a service called ProctorU, where you sign in and someone sits there and watches you on your web cam, and talks to you, and checks out your environment, and makes sure you have no unacceptable resources. It looks really creepy. I am much more anxious about the process of being proctored online than I am about the final exam itself.

Maybe Butterfly could sit in front of the computer for me. Do you think they'd notice the difference?

Maybe Butterfly could sit in front of the computer for me. Do you think they’d notice the difference?

With my luck, Cricket will take an instant dislike to the proctor talking at us from my computer screen, and will spend the whole test barking, until my head splits open and all of that studiously gathered information spills out all over the floor.

“Cricket is ready.”

Drawing Pictures of Dogs


When I was in graduate school for fiction writing, one of my teachers complained that my work was too “heady” and not placed enough in down to earth details. She wanted descriptions of rooms, clothing, weather, anything to make it more believable that these scenes were happening somewhere outside of my loopy brain.

I had a lot of respect for that teacher, so during the summer I signed up for a local adult education class in drawing. I had hopes that I would immediately be able to capture scenes and squeeze depths of emotion from stale memories. I would suddenly understand color and shading, and line and texture, and I could design the clothes I always wanted to wear, and draw complicated murals on my walls.

The adult education art teacher was a little bit ethereal and not quite as down to earth as I’d hoped. Even her white hair seemed to be reaching up to the sky, unwilling to stay tacked down with barrettes. But I bought my supplies anyway: pencils and chalk and paper and erasers. I sat in the classroom and listened to lectures about shading, and perspective, and complementary colors. It was all a struggle, though. I had to push myself to go to class, and push myself to practice at home. My brain resisted each lesson with a ferocity I had not expected.

After six weeks of drawing lessons, it was time to move on to painting. I thought I would be excited, instead I was tense and short tempered when Mom and I went to the art store and scoured the aisles for all of the new items on the syllabus. I was uncomfortable with all of the money I was spending on supplies, but that did not really explain the panic rising up in me.

The night of the next class, Mom had to drive me, because otherwise I would not have been able to even start the car. The bag of art supplies felt like heavy bricks, and the school building cast a shadow like a haunted castle. When I reached the door of the classroom, where I’d safely entered six times before, I could not go in. I could barely even breathe. My body felt like it was filled with poison darts. I raced out of the building to the safety of the car and I couldn’t explain any of it to Mom as she dutifully drove me home. I couldn’t even tolerate keeping the paints – it all had to go back to the store. I never went back to the class.

I spent the rest of the summer working on the revisions for my novel, and deepening and dressing up the interior of the scenes as best I could, but I felt sick, and guilty, for having failed, inexplicably, to finish the adult education class.

I am prone to panic. Usually, if I feel twinges of that whirlwind going off in my head, it’s a sign that something is buried in that particular corner of my brain that needs to be excavated. Over the years I’ve been able to excavate a lot of those corners and draw off the panic, but certain land mines remain potent, and unexplained, no matter how many times I’ve tried to clean them out. And painting is one of those land mines. Maybe it’s just that I’m not talented in this particular area and, being a perfectionist, I hate that. Or maybe there’s something deeper and I’m not ready to see it yet. I don’t know.

I would love to be able to paint a picture of Butterfly’s eyes, and capture her moods more thoroughly than I can manage with a camera. I want to put Cricket down on paper, though she’s unlikely to actually stay there.

Butterfly's eyes speak volumes.

Butterfly’s eyes speak volumes.

Cricket is a blur.

Cricket is a blur.

I spent a lot of time last year just coloring, with pencils, working on a brain coloring book because it made me feel slightly less silly than the Little Mermaid coloring book I really wanted. Maybe what I should really do is print out pictures of Cricket and Butterfly in black and white and try to color them in. Cricket would look great in orange, with a blue Mohawk. And Butterfly could really come to life with a few touches of pink!

My coloring book.

My coloring book.





Maybe drawing pictures of the dogs would be a safe place to start.